Guest Post from Henoch
A friend of mine who is a Rabbi casually told me that a Doctor had called him to warn him that a pedophile was moving into his city. The sexual predator had worn out his welcome where he lives and the Rabbonim of his town had demanded that he move. When I asked him what he is doing about it, he responded that he had no idea what to do about it. The pedophile was unlikely to daven in his shul, so most of his congregants wouldn’t care. With great effort and a strong campaign, at best he could accomplish that the person would perhaps choose a different city. He wasn’t even sure how this would be accomplished and at best would only cause the man to relocate elsewhere. This Rabbi is a great leader and a person with much integrity, yet he doesn’t see it as a cause that needs to take up his full attention for the next few weeks. It would also cause much fighting, alarm, and strife for all involved. For the following reasons this small story illustrates why Rabbonim may find it hard to solve this problem.
1) Rabbonim don’t have the resources and methodology by which this type of information is gathered. Patterns of behavior which characterize abuse can easily be identified by professionals, but can easily be missed by others. They would find it hard to convene a Bais Din to hear from all related parties and examine all evidence. The testimony of women, children, psychologists, or DNA would be suspect.
2) A story told by a victim or his family will very rarely trump the assumption of innocence for a neighbor, friend, or even a stranger.
3) Assuming that the story is believed, there is not necessarily a mandate on a particular Rabbi to solve the problem.
4) The Rabbi’s livelihood is dependent on the opinion of others. He will not necessarily jeopardize this, for a controversial cause.
5) The Rabbi may think that he can control the problem by speaking to the perpetrator or by watching him closely. He may also believe that the criminal has done teshuva. A Rabbi lives by the idea that people can and do grow. The fact that statistics show that this is very unlikely will not prevent him from hoping that this particular man repented.
6) Centuries of Jewish thought and teachings may lead him to the conclusion that Mesira (turning over criminals to the secular sytem of Justice) is rarely an option.
7) Although prison is an option even under the rubric of Halacha, the parameters of that option and its’ use in a secular system of law is too controversial to consider.
8) The possibility of Chillul Hashem and the potential destruction of the pedophile’s family often seems to trump the idea of justice to the victim or safety for the community.
9) The idea that a child who was a victim of sexual abuse suffers ongoing psychological trauma after the event, is a relatively new discovery, and one which is not referenced in classical Halachic sources.
10) Moving the perpetrator to another city or job is the best outcome that a shul or city can hope for, but is a zero net gain for Klal Yisroel as a whole.
11) Great improvements have been brought to the Jewish world in the area of avoiding Lashon Hara. Whisper campaigns, rumors, and accusations run contrary to those improvements. Rabbonim are reluctant to create an atmosphere where relating negative stories about others would be favorably received.
12) Yeshivas and other Torah institutions are created with great sacrifice and heroism. Rabbonim, who are the guardians of such institutions, cannot impartially judge the weight of an accusation, while adequately guarding the survival of these institutions. This is a classic case of a conflict of interest. Rabbonim understand that when a community leader is accused of crimes such as these, the continued existence of Yeshivos affiliated with that individual are put in jeopardy. This may be a price that is too high to pay.
13) When police and secular courts are used, the outcome is usually accepted, whether the accused is found guilty or not guilty. When cases of this nature are handled by Rabbonim, the perception of the public is often that a crime was covered up, and that the Rabbonim were the cause.
Due to the above points, there are reasonable questions of how Rabbinic authorities can play a positive role in sexual abuse cases. While cases where Rabbis publicly advocate on behalf of sexual abuse victims are rare or perhaps even non-existent, there may be Rabbis who privately provide advice and advocacy which may be quite beneficial to a victim’s family. It may be important to investigate a Rabbi’s position as to whether he advocates for the involvement of police and the secular court system prior to seeking advice or advocacy. A Rabbi who believes that police and secular courts should never be involved may be more likely to fall into the 13 traps outlined above. A Rabbi who believes that police and secular courts should be involved in certain cases may be able to play a more positive role in this difficult process, and may be more independent and less likely to fall prey to the above mentioned problems. However, many Rabbis project this image publicly, but will hardly ever advise going to authorities. This position of pretending to advocate for a victim yet actually covering up incidents has led to much pain and suffering in our communities over the past few decades. Rabbis who advise going straight to police and authorities when victims of sexual abuse approach them probably recognize their own limitations and understand that there is no other way to solve this problem.